We’re now midway through the qualifying group stages and Republic of Ireland boss Martin O’Neill will still be quietly confident of leading the nation to next summer’s World Cup. Ireland, unbeaten in five qualifying fixtures, are joint-top of Group D with Serbia and supporters are already dreaming of a spot in Russia 2018.
In their most recent encounter, Ireland were held to a goalless draw by Wales. The result was overshadowed by Seamus Coleman’s horrific injury and the Everton full-back has now subsequently been ruled out for the remainder of the season. Welsh defender Neil Taylor was shown a straight red card for the tackle and Irish fans will be wishing Coleman all the best as he starts the road to full recovery.
Unfortunately, he is unlikely to return until 2018 and it could even hinder his chances of earning a spot in O’Neill’s World Cup squad. The double header with Georgia and Serbia in September could prove crucial, especially if Ireland manage to pick up all three points at home against Austria in June. With seven points from a possible nine in those matches, the Irish could have one foot in the competition.
Defensively, Martin O’Neill’s side are in fine company. The Boys in Green have conceded just three goals in five matches so far, with only England, Croatia, Germany, Spain, Belgium and Northern Ireland conceding fewer goals in the same time frame. Coleman will be sorely missed but O’Neill will already have a competent replacement in mind as captain. One of those, John O’Shea, has already hinted that the Donegalman’s brutal injury may actually spur his teammates on.
With three games at the Aviva Stadium and two away fixtures against Georgia and Wales, who might be eliminated from contention by October 8th, Ireland still have a fantastic chance to secure their spot in the upcoming World Cup. The Republic are 2/1 to top the group with 888sport – although second place should be enough to snatch a play-off spot.
If Ireland do finish as group runners-up, they will need to be one of the eight best sides in terms of points accumulated throughout the qualifying round. A draw will then determine their opponents for a home and away double header that decides who heads to Russia and who watches from their armchairs next summer. Ultimately, Ireland’s main objective is to oust Serbia and the Green Army will be hoping that Wales do them a favour when they travel to Eastern Europe in June.
Ireland fans will be praying that O’Neill can guide his side to a second major event in a row; every Irishman is longing for another Robbie Brady moment. It would be fair to claim that Ireland supporters lit up Euro 2016 last summer and the Republic are on track to travel to Russia in vast numbers for what could be a memorable competition. While the Euros are great, the World Cup is the ultimate goal and the Irish will be determined to get there, not least for their fallen captain Seamus Coleman.